We all want our daughters to reach their full potential, but cultivating confidence, strength and resilience in girls can be challenging. It can seem like there are so many obstacles holding them back: Girls around the globe face gender-based discrimination, limited educational opportunities and other systemic barriers that squash their self-esteem and derail their goals. Yes, even in Canada.
We asked Caroline Riseboro, president and CEO of Plan International Canada, a global girls’ rights organization, for some advice on how we can raise strong daughters and also support young women worldwide.
Do our daughters really feel a lot of pressure from society just for being a girl?
CAROLINE: We conducted a national survey and found that 70 percent of young women say they’ve regularly or occasionally felt pressure to change their behaviour because of their gender. That’s a huge number.
Where is this pressure coming from, exactly?
CR: A lot of it comes from social media. I’ve heard many times from young women that their self-esteem is directly related to how many likes or comments they get on Instagram or other social media channels.
In an effort to break stereotypes, should we introduce our daughters to sports or interests like hockey and STEM clubs?
CR: It’s so important for girls to partake in stereotype-breaking programs. Our research also showed that when girls enter woman-hood, they tend to hold back from speaking up in conversations and their self-confidence drops drastically. While it’s critical to recognize that these stereotypes and issues exist, it’s equally important to listen to girls about the unique barriers they face, to amplify their voices and to support their transition into confident and resilient women.
How important is it to provide strong role models?
CR: I think parents can really do their part by helping connect their daughters with like-minded people and mentors who will encourage them as they grow. One of our key youth empowerment initiatives, Girls Belong Here, offers girls around the world the opportunity to step into the roles of political, economic and business leaders [for a day] and to promote young women’s power and potential. These positions have included everything from the prime minister of Canada, to the heads of major corporations, and even the chief of the Ugandan army – positions where women are traditionally underrepresented. It’s hard for girls to aspire to roles if they’ve never seen anybody who looks like them holding these positions.
Why is it important to give girls the ability to make decisions about their lives?
CR: Girls are inherently powerful. What we need to do is ensure that their personal experiences and opinions are heard and valued. An easy way to do this is to loop your daughter in when making family decisions. She’ll never feel like she should be at the decision-making table if it doesn’t start at home.
Not all girls in Canada, or around the world, are empowered. What can a lack of freedom and support mean for a girl’s health and well-being? And what can we do about it?
CR: One of the best ways to support girls is to acknowledge their incredible potential and to become an advocate for change. For instance, child marriage is an extreme violation of a girl’s freedom and rights, leaving her with no control over her life or her body. Right now, there are more than 700 million girls and women around the world who have been married before their 18th birthday. We also know that this practice harms their health as it often leads to early pregnancies and child birth challenges, which are the second leading cause of death among 15- to 19-year-old girls globally. We as Canadians—including Canadian girls—have the power to help change that.
Visit plancanada.ca to get involved and make a difference for girls globally.